TRUE LEADERSHIP:  How To Find Your Moxie In A Time Of Need

When I was in elementary school, one of my classmates was a girl named Laura. Laura came to school with uncombed hair and old, tattered dresses. I didn’t think of her as living in poverty; I only saw her as “different.” She suffered from epileptic seizures, which freaked everyone out. Halfway through a class, without warning, Laura would fall on the floor; her body would stiffen, her arms and legs would jerk and shake like a rag doll, and we would all circle around and watch. Back then we just waited it out. After a few minutes, Laura would open her eyes, slowly stand up, and wobble alone down to the infirmary. We wouldn’t see her for the rest of the day.

Laura was a loner. You would see her off by herself in the corner of the lunchroom or the playground. She was the target of frequent tormenting, harassment, and bullying. On one occasion, a group of boys were making fun of the stains on her blouse and the way she walked. Another boy, who himself wasn’t very popular, stood in front of the bullies and told them to stop bothering her.

For his courage, the poor kid got punched in the nose, thrown on the ground and five boys pummeled him. His face bled for the rest of the afternoon, and he had a black eye for a week. That “poor kid” went on to be the high school student union president, a talented quarterback, and eventually a successful lawyer and crown prosecutor. And after the incident, I don’t remember Laura ever being bullied again.

To this day, I wish I’d had the courage to stand up to those bullies the way he did.

Moxie. Courage. Nerve. Determination. A force of character to contend with. A quality of great leadership.

Leading can be treacherous. With or without a title, exercising leadership means shouldering the pains and the aspirations of those we serve, while failing or frustrating others. Facing resistance to changes we initiate, working in systems that go against our values, or standing on unpopular principles, leading means putting yourself at risk. It means stepping into the path of potential betrayal, rejection, discomfort, and unpopularity. Leaders get attacked, dismissed, silenced, and sometimes assassinated. Who wants that?

The root of the word courage is cor—the Latin word for heart. Leading means the courage to follow our heart. It means, at times, the courage to stand alone as we stand up for something or someone we care about. It means having moxie.

Moxie teaches us to honour our true self and worry less about how we look or how we conform. Here are three methods to finding your moxie:

1.Be willing to stand alone. To lead and belong fully in this world, you must be prepared to stand unaccompanied. Having moxie means having the courage to do what’s right rather than doing what’s popular. There is no path to moxie. There is no path till you walk it.

2.Stand for something. You can’t stand alone until you know what you stand for. Whether you have a well-defined set of principles that guide your leadership or your life, an intuitive sense of purpose, or a clear vision for your life and your work, moxie comes from clarity.

3.Care. Moxie comes from caring. Caring about your people. Caring about your work. When you care, moxie surfaces in times of need. As I say in my book by the same title, Caring Is Everything.

In the poem “A Memorable Fancy,” William Blake enters into an imaginary conversation with the prophet Isaiah: “Does a firm persuasion that a thing is so, make it so?” Isaiah replies, “All poets believe that it does, and in ages of imagination this firm persuasion removed mountains.”

Three Essentials To Carry Us Authentically Into 2022

“When we strive to become better than we are, everything around us becomes better too.”
The Alchemist
Lately, social media reflects how glad people are to see the end of 2021. I get the frustration, but let me ask: What are you going to do differently in 2022 to make this a better year?
Remember – it isn’t the year that determines us; it’s our choices in the year that determines us. Circumstances don’t define who we are. Circumstances reveal who we are.
Responding within ourselves and our teams to the three essential needs of people now will help make 2022 a better year.
1) Certainty. When is the last time you attended a wedding, had dinner out, went to a movie, sent your kids to school, or planned a trip without concern about whether it would be cancelled or complicated with restrictions? Managing the uncertainty of this pandemic the past two years is wearing us out. We all yearn to return to some semblance of certainty.
2) Connection. Social distancing, zoom calls, and masks have separated us. When is the last time you shook a person’s hand without being self-conscious? Or even freely gave a hug without worrying about what was appropriate? Even introverts want to reconnect in meaningful ways, collaborate freely without restraints, and get back to relaxing in another’s presence. While physical separation means to curtail the spread of the virus, the impact of increased social isolation on our over-all well-being is noteworthy.
3) Clarity. The amount of information—and misinformation—about COVID has swollen rapidly the past year and it is becoming increasingly difficult to separate fact from fiction. In our current “infodemic,” myths, conspiracy theories, scams, armchair epidemiologists, and Twitter scientists abound. Fake news spreads faster and more easily than the virus and is likely just as dangerous. We are all in need of clarity of what is true and clarity as to the direction of our lives.
As leaders coming into this new year, helping your teams respond to these needs is a vital priority. If you don’t have a title, you can become a leader by taking responsibility to turn these needs into agreements with yourself.
1) Certainty – What will you preserve? Certainty is not, as many of us have been taught, an end state. It’s a poor source of security. Embracing the uncertainty that comes with growth is a mindset. With the endless uncertainty of apocalyptic weather events, political and economic instability, and ongoing new variants, learning how to find certainty from within is the new leadership proficiency. It starts by embracing the wisdom of uncertainty. When we detach from our need for certainty and accept that uncertainty is a part of being alive, we gain freedom from our past, freedom from the imprisonment of knowing. Growth is made possible by embracing the wisdom of uncertainty. By stepping into the unknown – the field of all possibilities – we open ourselves to the creative mind that orchestrates all of life. Willingness to accept uncertainty helps solutions spontaneously emerge from confusion, disorder, and chaos. When you step into the field of all possibilities, you will experience the fun, adventure, magic, and mystery of life. Rather than waiting for the world to become certain to make you feel safe, you can find certainty – and thus security – from within. The best way to embrace uncertainty is to put your efforts on what is within your control and let go of what you can’t control.
2) Connection. How will you connect? Authentic leaders are in tune with those around them. They read people. They inspire by being connected and showing deep concern for others. They build lasting friendships. Decide to take care of your team now. With each team member, identify their unique lane and be sure that their role is viewed as vitally important to the organization. Take the time to get a “temperature read” for how people are doing right now. How is their well-being? Their mental health? Their overall state? Their stress level? Use this time to check in with people. Take time to care enough to make the connection.
3) Clarity. What needs clarifying? One of the ways to counter the uncertainty in the world is to bring clarity to the world. Here are five questions that require clarity in leadership and life: How am I feeling today? Authenticity – honesty without judgement – can inspire. What is my reason for being, my why? A life without a clear sense of purpose is diminished to drudgery. What is my vision for my life and my work in the next three years? Without a vision, we languish. How do I define success? If you carefully consider what you want to be said of you at your funeral, you will find your definition of success. How will I live? Take time to explore these questions for yourself. Then spend time clarifying and communicating with your team the answers to these questions in an organizational context. Ambiguity is a formula for mediocrity. Clarity is inspiring. And we are all in need of some inspiration right now.

Caring is Everything: Getting to the Heart of Humanity, Leadership and Life

Charles Dickens, author of the famous, A Christmas Carol, said, “I have always thought of Christmas as a good time, a kind, forgiving, charitable, pleasant time. It’s the only time in the long calendar of the year when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely and to think of people around them as fellow passengers to the grave, and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys.”
A Christmas Carol was published 178 years ago, and I sincerely hope that we can take Dickens’s wisdom and apply it to our hectic lives today. We are all inspired by random acts of kindness, even on a small scale. But does our caring have to be random? What if we decide to be more intentional in our actions? What if caring means illuminating the difference between impulsively floating along and intentionally navigating a more satisfying course through life?
Intentional caring is what I believe sets great leaders apart from the rest. Over the past nearly four decades in the leadership development field, I have met some incredible leaders who care about the people they serve. They care about their communities. They care about the work they do. And they care about the impact they are having on the world.
Caring has a pervasive, enduring influence on the wellbeing of those around us. Authentic leaders know this. Caring impacts who we are as people and the places we work and live. So, when considering caring intentions for the coming holiday season, I want to propose that we make a to-be list instead of a to-do list. Here’s mine for today:
1) Be Kind. In Charlie Mackesy’s book, The Boy, the Mole, the Fox, and the Horse, the mole and the boy find themselves having a conversation one afternoon.
“I’m so small,” said the mole.
“Yes,” replied the boy, “but you can make a huge difference.”
At that point the mole asked the boy what he wanted to be when he grew up.
“Kind,” said the boy.
Be kind. Now that’s a worthy goal for any of us.
2) Be Connected. Some incredibly caring leaders have crossed my path this past eighteen months. One such leader, Trevor Muir, CEO of Surepoint Group has used this time to build a stronger company and a stronger community. When 2020 came around, “the stability of everything his organization knew was gone,” reported one team member. “Uncertainty and fear loomed in every corner. Isolation and lack of work grew rampant as the pandemic dug in for the long haul and put everyone there to the test.” ‘Trev’ humbly responded by navigating his company through it with compassion and an unwavering commitment to the people and communities they operate within. Among so many other things, he considered the mental health of his employees and delayed layoffs as he recognized that being in isolation removed many coping mechanisms people would typically access in a pre-pandemic world. He decided to continue celebrating the holidays and had gift bags made for every employee full of items sourced from local businesses within each branch location. People felt valued and loved that these baskets helped support local businesses within their communities. Trev used the pandemic to listen with people, to be attuned to their mental health challenges, and to build community through connections.
3) Be Curious. This week an Amazon driver mistakenly drove past our snow-covered driveway and onto our lawn, where he got stuck. Spinning his tires on the ice, he dug ruts in the grass. I’m embarrassed to say that I stormed out the door yelling at him, which didn’t solve a thing. It only created more anxiety for both of us, resulting in deeper ruts in the lawn as he “tried harder” to get out and an embarrassed driver who left, I imagine, feeling horrible about himself. I wonder how the ordeal would have turned out if I took my own advice and brought curiosity rather than hostility to the circumstance. A caring way to de-rail an activated stress response is to get curious. While being angry may have been an understandable response to this situation, getting angry only made it worse. Curiosity transforms anger into understanding, opens the door to empathy and compassion, helps solve the problem more effectively, and lowers your blood pressure. And it’s free.
If you talk with any organization responding to the mental health challenges in their community, you will know that this has been a tough two years to say the least. Addiction, family violence, and suicide prevention lifelines are all experiencing an increase in calls. Suffering, I have learned, looms largest when we try to go at it on our own. Marginalization is what happens whenever we feel that we don’t belong.
I want stress two things: You are not alone, and it is okay not to be okay. Please reach out for whatever support you might need now. There are amazing resources around and generous people who want to be needed. “Help” is truly the bravest thing we can say.

WHAT ARE YOU DOING FOR HUMANITY?

At the end of WWII, the United Polish Relief Fund appealed to the Canadian government to deliver penicillin to Poland. In October and November of 1945, the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) managed to deliver five tons of penicillin to Poland, the only humanitarian flights the RCAF would be able to make into the Soviet Bloc until after the Cold War.

On one of these humanitarian missions, the Fortress 9202 crashed into Eggeberg Hill, near Halle, Germany, killing all five RCAF members on board. My mother’s first husband, and father of my dear sister, Kate, was one of the pilots on that fateful flight. They sacrificed their lives for their country. They died for humanity. Watch a short video recounting their story. (Flt.-Lt. Donald Forest Caldwell, Mountain View,AB; Flt.-Lt. Edward Pattern Harling, Calgary, AB; Squadron Leader Alfred Ernest Webster, Yorkton, SK; Flt.-Lt. Norbert Davis Roche, Montreal, QC; Sergeant Edwin Erwin Phillips, Montreal, QC)

Martin Luther King Jr. once said that an individual has not started living until they can “rise above the narrow confines of their individualistic concerns to the broader concerns of all humanity.” Rising above our self-serving desires and problems and looking toward a contribution to the community isn’t just good for the community; it’s good for your own well-being and mental health.

As we approach another Remembrance Day in Canada, may the memory and honoring of our veterans serve as an inspiration to rise above the “narrow confines of our individual concerns” and to lift our eyes to the horizon of humanity. Let the death of these five men, along with all who served and sacrificed, serve as an inspiration as they placed the call of humanity above personal danger. To expand on the words of Martin Luther King, Jr., “Let’s make a career of humanity … and you will make a greater person of yourself, a greater nation of your country and a finer world to live in.” The ultimate measure of a person is not where they stand in moments of comfort and convenience, but where they stand in times of challenge and controversy.

We remember and we will never forget. But let’s not just be touched on this Remembrance Day. Let’s be inspired to act differently. And then let’s look around, roll up our sleeves, and get to work making this world a better place.

THE COURAGE OF VULNERABILITY: Inspiring a More Human Organization

The value of vulnerability and its role in inspiring trust, creating psychological safety, and fostering collaboration and engagement on your team has been underscored in recent years. But a naïve understanding of what it means to be vulnerable can impede your growth, limit your impact, and even blow up in your face.

When a senior VP in a manufacturing organization was promoted, his role substantially increased his accountability. He was nervous about making the leap. He had just learned about vulnerability and so bared his soul to his new team of leaders. In an opening address to his team, he said, “I want to do this job, but I’m scared and shaky and not quite sure I can come through for you. I’m going to need your help.” His candor backfired. He lost credibility and trust with the people who wanted and needed a confident leader to take charge. He was never able to regain the trust of his team and was soon removed from this position.

Let’s start with understanding what vulnerability isn’t. Vulnerability doesn’t mean being weak or submissive or indiscriminately exposing all your hidden fears and flaws. It’s not about falling apart when you need to be standing tall. It’s not about bringing all your insecurities, doubts, and worries to work with you. In short, it’s not about expecting your team to be your therapist.

Simply put, vulnerability is the courage to be yourself. It’s that simple, and it’s also that difficult. Vulnerability lies at the core of authentic leadership and understanding who you are as a person is at the core of vulnerability. Thus, the paradox of vulnerability. You must be real, and you must be stable.

Vulnerability is not a leadership technique or tool. It is a way of being in the world. Vulnerability means replacing “being professional by keeping a distance” with humanity, honesty, respect, and staying calm under pressure.

Vulnerability means:

1. Sharing your values, dreams, and intentions in your work as a leader. I remember a senior leader in the agriculture sector who began her opening speech to her team with slides of her parents farming in Saskatchewan and the values she learned about growing up on the farm. She then shared her vision for this division. Within five minutes she had inspired an entire team of leaders to be completely aligned with her.

2. Being curious and self-aware. Vulnerability means being comfortable with yourself, so you aren’t driven by approval ratings or a need to please. It means being open to learn about yourself and how your behavior impacts others. It means being open to seeing your blind spots, letting go of all blame, and being committed to grow as a leader and as a person. Being vulnerable means you don’t seek power as a way of proving your worth. You know that your worth and security come from within.

3. Having a good support system away from your work. The strength and clarity of vulnerability come from having a place away from work to bring your fears, doubts, and insecurities, so you are free to be human when you get to work. A good support system of confidants, coaches, or therapists provides perspective and a place to fall apart and get put back together again so you can return to your team with civility, compassion, and clarity.

4. Encouraging others. Because vulnerable leaders are comfortable with themselves, they are not threatened by the growth of others. They are open about their appreciation of others. They are humble enough to know they aren’t the smartest person in the room and are wise enough to extract the strength of the members of their team. They are committed to helping people become the best version of themselves.

MENTAL TOUGHNESS IN AN AGE OF ENTITLEMENT

“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”  – Viktor E. Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning

We all have the ability to choose how we react in our circumstances and given the situations we now find ourselves in, it is helpful to fortify ourselves so we choose wisely. I offer some suggestions to strengthen your mental toughness to help you thrive through these challenging times.

For the past eighteen months through the weariness of COVID, I have been inspired by studying the lives of those who stayed strong and compassionate through the hard times. An impressive example and role model is Nelson Mandela. The longest stretch of Mandela’s twenty-seven years in prison was his eighteen years on Robben Island where he endured harsh conditions in a cell block constructed for political prisoners. Each prisoner had a single seven-foot square cell with a slop bucket, around a concrete courtyard. They were allowed no reading materials and worked crushing stones with a hammer to make gravel in a blindingly bright limestone quarry. He endured and emerged to be one of this century’s most influential leaders.

In addition to being inspired by such stories, I’ve gained strength by becoming a more thoughtful observer of my own life through this journey. Here are six lessons I have learned about mental toughness in an age of comfort and entitlement.

1) Start with a compelling vision. When my father agreed to be my track coach in high school the first thing we did was establish an inspiring goal. As a former nationally ranked gymnast, he could see I didn’t have Olympic talent. But that didn’t stop him from challenging me to have a dream of making the Canadian Olympic team. He would say, “the purpose of having a dream is not to achieve your dream; it’s to inspire you to become the kind of person it takes to achieve your dream.” A compelling vision gives you a reason to have mental toughness. I didn’t get out of bed at 5:00 am to run ten miles in a freezing snowstorm. I got out of bed at 5:00 to prepare for the Olympics. What is your compelling vision?

2) Embrace the grind. When I look back over my sixty-five years, I recognize that the hardest and most frustrating times in my life were also the most formative. Challenges in life are unavoidable. If we help our children accept difficulty as a part of life and instead of making it easier for them, support them through it, they have a greater chance of success as adults. Children who learn to handle their own problems are also the ones who are more apt to thrive as adults. The Chinese saying, “Chi Ku Shi Fu” (eating bitterness is good fortune) highlights the idea that there is the opportunity for wisdom and growth amid misfortune. While we don’t have control over the situations that life will bring to us, we do have a choice of how we react to them. Life is tough. When you can accept and embrace that fact, life is no longer quite so difficult. The 40% rule, first coined by David Goggins, explains that when your mind and body are starting to tire and you feel like giving up, you’re only at forty percent of what you are truly capable of achieving. My dad said it this way: “Don’t pray for the world to get easier; pray instead for the you to get stronger, and then get to work.”

3) Be in it for the long game. Twenty-seven years in prison teaches you many things, but one of the lessons is to play the long game. According to Nelson Mandela’s autobiography, Long Walk To Freedom, Mandela was impatient as a young man. He wanted change yesterday. Prison taught him to slow down, and it reinforced his sense that haste often leads to error and misjudgement. Above all, he learned how to postpone gratification. Many of us are used to the opposite. Because of our aversion to discomfort, we confuse instant gratification with expressing ourselves. Getting through this pandemic with mental toughness means letting go of our need for immediate relief and trusting – with a firm resolve – that we will come through this – and we’ll be better for it.

4) Find your hidden power by focusing on what you can control. Epictetus, the Greek Stoic philosopher, walked with a limp as the result of years of being chained up as a slave. Great thinkers like him knew that the only thing you ever really have control over are your deliberate thoughts. You can’t control other people, you can’t control your situation, and you can’t always control your own body. So, the only thing you do have control over is your emotions, thoughts, and behavior—the essence of mental toughness. A hidden power from within is harnessed when we spend our time on things over which we have complete control: goals, values, and what we do with our thoughts.

5) Keep your heart open. Mental toughness isn’t the same as cold, callous grit. Mental toughness is more like tender courage. It’s realizing that it’s not determination but acceptance that demonstrates strength: letting go of the resistance and the war. And it means finding ways to express kindness at every opportunity. An entrepreneur with anxiety and depression whose business has taken a hit through the pandemic called me last week in an entirely different mood. He was confident and inspired and told me how one morning that week an elderly stranger pulled up beside him and asked for directions. After he found the directions on Google Maps and tried to explain to the stranger how to arrive at his destination, he could tell how confused this poor man was. So, my client then had him follow him as he drove there. This simple act of kindness made his whole day. It’s kindness – not cruelty – that’s going to get us through this.

6) Plant a garden. Even on a remote island, Nelson Mandela needed a place where he could be with himself and find strength. The early days on Robben Island were bleak. The wardens were coarse and abusive. The work was backbreaking. Prisoners were permitted only one visitor and a single letter every six months. So, Mandela decided to plant a garden. In his autobiography, he goes to great length to talk about the meaning it had for him to go through the arduous work of creating a garden amid the obstacles of a prison system, and then carefully nurturing it. It was not a place of retreat but of renewal. “Each of us,” he later explained, “needs something away from the world that gives us pleasure and satisfaction, a place apart… You must find your own garden.”

If you are interested in getting more of my perspective on living through this pandemic with greater mental strength, please join me for my complimentary webinar on Tuesday, October 26th:

Register for 9 AM Mountain Time  

Register for 5 PM Mountain Time